Top Ten Horror Movies of 2021

I made my way back to the theaters this year after over a year away, and there were a bunch of incredible horror movies waiting for me! There’s truly nothing like seeing a horror movie in a dark theater with no distractions and a good audience. While I didn’t see all of these movies in theaters, I did any chance I could. Let’s get to the good stuff, here are my Top 10 horror movies of 2021!

10. Caveat

Written and Directed by Damian Mc Carthy

This movie really got under my skin, and I mean that as the highest praise. As someone who is a bit claustrophobic, this movie occasionally hurt to watch.

I found this movie genuinely stressful and enjoyed the general melancholic air it had, plus the little dashes of spooky were effective. That rabbit design is also incredible, and the wear and tear on it looked great.

I imagine this movie had a very small budget but the filmmakers made it work, and it left an impression on me.

9. The Sadness

Written and Directed by Ron Jabbaz

The goriest movie I’ve seen in a long time.

The violence in this is gnarly, and it’s all angry and fucked up and full of rage. But the gore is the point! The gore and the violence are there to punctuate the fucked up nature of humanity, and in particular the violence that women face.

At first it seems the movie will focus on the boyfriend/girlfriend couple, but it becomes obvious early on that the woman is the focus. She’s already put upon in the opening scene dealing with her deadbeat boyfriend, and next she’s on the train dealing with unwanted advances from an old man that every woman can relate to. But then, the virus hits and everything gets much worse.

The old man stalks her throughout the movie, when she asks for a man’s phone to call for help the lock screen is images of objectified women, the scientist who wants to help her puts her in an awful situation that she can’t trust, and when her boyfriend does show up it’s only to claim her for himself. The message is rather despairing, but hey the movie is called The Sadness.

My favorite bit of gore was actually the first big setpiece, when all hell breaks loose at the restaurant early on and some truly terrible things happen with hot oil. Absolutely nasty, looked absolutely great, and a gift to fellow gorehounds like myself.

Absolutely not a movie for everyone, I was happy I saw it in a theater to see the rest of the audience struggling as much as I was. I saw this as the closing night movie at Brooklyn Horror Fest at my beloved Nitehawk Cinema, and after the movie it was clear everyone needed a drink to shake it off!

8. The Advent Calender (Le Calendrier)

Written and Directed by Patrick Ridremont

This movie follows Eva, a paraplegic woman whose best friend gifts her a mysterious advent calendar for her birthday.

I found this movie super effective—it’s relatable, moving, sad, and creepy. Eugénie Derouand gives an incredible performance as Eva, and the character is written so well that you really feel her pain and all her decisions feel earned. 

The advent calendar itself is also a gorgeous prop, it looks like an authentic antique German advent calendar and has juuust the right amount of sinister. The candy designs for each of the days are also very clever, and Ich’s monster design is great. 

It feels like a straightforward premise, but the movie really rises above all that and has something genuine to say. 

If spooky French holiday flicks are your thing, definitely check this one out!

7. The Medium

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Written by Na Hong-jin, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Chantavit Dhanasevi, and Siwawut Sewatanon

The Medium is definitely a slow burn, and is also definitely worth it for the payoff. The framing device is a documentary crew following a shaman, who soon realizes her niece is possessed. While the documentary crew angle doesn’t always feel earned–or necessary–the story itself is compelling enough to overlook that.

The Medium is consistently unsettling and is often genuinely scary. The shaman aspect brings a new angle to the possession genre, and allows for some unique scenes and rituals that felt fresh to me.

While the movie is a slow burn, the climax is an absolute rollercoaster full of craziness, gore, and plenty of surprises that all genre fans will love.

6. Psycho Goreman

Written and Directed by Steven Kostanski

Me at 5 min in: That music cue sounds kinda Power Rangers-y

Me at 10 min in: Oh ok this IS Power Rangers just for gorehounds 

I love Psycho Goreman’s design, and pretty much every word that came out of his mouth was gold. 

I particularly enjoyed Psycho Goreman’s flashback sequence because all the set/character designs were super metal and looked amazing. Tube-Man in the Planetary Alliance was a super fun design, and the warped policeman who just wants to die is a particularly fucked-up running gag that had me just crying laughing.

From a personal taste perspective, kids movies don’t really do anything for me. So a lot of the kid movie stuff wasn’t for me, and the whole “oh, isn’t that precocious child such a rascal” routine is a little stale. I just wanted to see Psycho Goreman doing his Psycho Goreman thing. The movie really nails the ending though, making the mishmash experience one that I overall had a blast with.

Let Psycho Goreman enjoy his hunky boys and ripping out the spines of his enemies!!

5. Candyman

Directed by Nia DaCosta, Written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld

Spooky, bloody, and gorgeously shot. Yayan Abdul-Mateen II was great, so were Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo. This was one of my most-anticipated movies of the year, and it did not disappoint. The theater I was in was super responsive to the film as well, you could feel the tension from the audience which really added to the experience.

I absolutely loved the body horror aspect, with Anthony McCoy slowly spiraling and his arm becoming more and more disfigured. It resembled a disgusting beehive by the end, and it looked amazing.

Enough can’t be said about the incredible use of mirrors and architecture in this film, Nia DaCosta’s directing is slick and stylish while never feeling overdone. I spent a lot of the movie wondering “HOW did she get this shot??”

Unfortunately I don’t think this movie sticks the landing which is definitely a bummer, the last 20 minutes or so is a lot of mumbo jumbo and undercuts a lot of what came before. But everything leading up to the finale is so effective that it’s still one of the best horror movies I saw this year.

4. Titane

Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau

Deeply repulsive and absolutely incredible.

I loved Raw so was extremely excited to see Julia Ducournau’s new movie, I went in knowing nothing about the plot and that’s how this movie is meant to be seen. A movie where you’re meant to feel the emotion from scene to scene, instead of focusing on a linear storyline. The story is important, but the experience is crucial.

The body horror is…effective, to say the least. The audience at my screening, myself very much included, positively squirmed the whole movie. But even outside the body horror, the movie challenges you to really look at the characters no matter how unsettling it may be.

The tracking shot of Alexia early on as she’s walking through the motor show is a masterpiece. First we see other women at the motor show and it’s very much shot with the male gaze, and as we follow Alexia the gaze lowly shifts and by the end it’s entirely empowering towards Alexia. When she gets on the car to dance she enjoys herself, and you barely even notice the men watching. It’s spectacular.

Agathe Rousselle’s performance is phenomenal and lacking any sense of vanity or self-consciousness, it’s a performance we should be talking about for years. That it’s her first role is insane to me, and even more impressive. The soundtrack is also flawless, with every song clearly being written into the script for their lyrics. (I had Future Islands stuck in my head for weeks after.)

Titane is a rewarding experience, if you have the stomach for it.

3. The Night House

Directed by David Bruckner, Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotroski

Genuinely unsettling, and a movie where I never knew what was going to happen next. I never felt safe while watching The Night House, I always felt like something was lurking just around the corner and that it could absolutely anything.

Rebecca Hall is incredible in this, her rage, sadness, and confusion all palpable and feel so incredibly real. I loved the use of architecture, it made for such a unique and visually engaging experience.

In addition to being a showcase in atmospheric horror with an emotionally powerful script, there’s also one scare in The Night House that had me absolutely GASP in theaters.

Whenever you think the movie is setting up a standard ghost story or “husband with a secret” story, you soon discover this movie is anything but standard.

And did I mention it’s tense?

2. Censor

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Written by Prano Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher

The film follows Enid, a strict film censor in the Video Nasty era. This movie is dripping with mood and style, I loved the visual aesthetic and meticulous sound design.

One of the rare films where the blurring reality feels effortless and seamless, the end result feeling truly dream-like.

Niam Alghar gives an extremely nuanced performance, and I really felt for her character’s confused, lonely state and her obsession with her sister’s disappearance.

There’s a scene in this movie where Enid is alone in a screening room, watching a horror movie for work and it becomes a freaky, haunting experience. I saw Censor alone in an empty movie theater, and it made for an extremely creepy viewing experience of watching a horror movie about watching horror movies.

Me before the movie, excited to have a theater to myself not knowing the horror that awaited

Also? Damn, I really need to get a VHS player again.

1. Malignant

Directed by James Wan, Written by James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Akela Cooper

“A truly good movie is enjoyable too. There’s nothing complicated about it.” —Akira Kurosawa (talking about Malignant presumably)

I would like to set the record straight: This movie isn’t “bad” or “so bad it’s good”, this movie is just fucking good. Fair warning, spoilers follow!!

This movie starts with a wonderfully campy opening scene, which perfectly sets the tone for the movie to come. The opening credits are delightfully gruesome and important to the plot, and I was so confused seeing the criticism that Malignant is boring/a different type of movie until the twist reveal. I think this movie tells you EXACTLY what it is from moment one.

The viewers who thought they were too smart for this movie simply weren’t in on the joke.

Her wig looks bad? It’s a clue that Gabriel is under there! Oh you think the replaying of “Where is My Mind” is silly? The movie is telling you THEY’RE THE SAME PERSON LIKE FIGHT CLUB!

While this movie may not be to everyone’s tastes, it’s a bad faith argument to say that movie is “bad” or “poorly made”.

This movie is made by one of the most talented horror directors with access to budget and great cameras, it looks fantastic. It’s a gorgeous movie with incredible sound design, and no one tracks a camera around a spooky house better than Wan.

One of my favorite shots of the movie is when they’re all talking in Madison’s living room, and the tied up mom comes crashing through 2 floors to land in the middle of the room. It’s fucking hilarious, because it’s meticulously staged. I knew exactly what we were going to see during the found footage twist reveal and I still cackled with glee when I saw it, this movie just gets it.

The Gabriel design is great, and I love that he’s a practical effect! (Loved him so much he inspired my Halloween costume this year.) The police station scene is my favorite scene of the year, absolutely nothing else brought me the sheer joy of the action mayhem punctuated by the famous chair throw.


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